Comments invited on legislative amendments to improve status of victims of human trafficking
The Ministry of the Interior has sent out for comments draft amendments to the Act on the Reception of Persons Applying for International Protection and on the Identification of and Assistance to Victims of Trafficking in Human Beings. The amendments aim to weaken the link between the provision of assistance to victims of human trafficking and criminal proceedings. In accordance with the Government Programme, the purpose is to improve the status of victims, regardless of the progress of related criminal proceedings in a human trafficking case.
The proposed amendments would promote both the status of the victim and the interests of society as a whole. At the same time, they would clarify legislation.
Weakening the connection between the provision of assistance and criminal proceedings would increase the detection of human trafficking and referral of victims to assistance. This is expected to have an impact especially on vulnerable victims who are currently afraid to seek help from the authorities. The amendment would also promote the enforcement of criminal liability, as the persons who have sought assistance are better placed to report the abuse they have experienced to the police.
Currently, the right of a victim of human trafficking to continue to receive assistance through the Assistance System is largely connected to the criminal proceedings and the progress of the proceedings. For this reason, the right to assistance may cease, for example if sufficient proof of a human trafficking offence is not obtained. Because of the link to the criminal proceedings, it is believed that not all persons in need of assistance may seek admittance to the Assistance System.
The starting point is assessing the victim’s individual situation
According to the draft proposal, the procedure for identifying victims of human trafficking would be simplified. Under the Act, identification of a victim of human trafficking would mean only the admission of the victim to the Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking, which is of key importance in terms of the realisation of the victim’s rights. In this way, the regulation on identification would be clearer and the legal effects of identification would be more predictable from the perspective of victims, authorities and parties assisting victims. The preconditions for admittance to the Assistance System would not change.
The continuation of assistance provided through the Assistance System would primarily be based on an assessment of the victim’s individual situation, not on decisions made in criminal proceedings. In other words, the victim would have the right to receive assistance regardless of the initiation, continuation and outcome of the criminal procedure. When assessing the victim’s individual situation, attention would be paid, among other things, to whether they need support measures through the Assistance System in order to recover from abuse and avoid becoming a victim again.
The important role of the Assistance System as an expert authority would be laid down in the Act
Acting as the national expert authority in matters related to the phenomenon of human trafficking and anti-trafficking work would be added to the duties of the Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking. The Assistance System operates in connection with the Joutseno Reception Centre, and in addition to practical assistance work, it already does important expert work. Laying down provisions on this duty would enable further development of the activities.
Other amendments clarifying the application of the Act and the purpose of the Assistance System would also be made to the Act. For example, the relationship between the Act and the application of general legislation on healthcare and social welfare would be clarified.
Government proposal to be submitted in autumn
The Ministry of the Interior has prepared the legislative amendments in close cooperation with the Assistance System for Victims of Human Trafficking and other key stakeholders. During the preparation process, a workshop on the identification of victims was organised. It brought together both authorities and organisations. A cross-sectoral working group appointed by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in 2020 has also supported the preparatory work. The working group’s task is to draft legislative amendments concerning assistance for victims of human trafficking.
The deadline for submitting comments is 8 August. The government proposal is due to be submitted to Parliament during the autumn session 2022.